The Los Angeles Unified School District recently became one of the first—if not the first—districts in the nation to hire its own social media director.
And while some ed-tech professionals suggest the move by the nations' second-largest school district reflects a similar trend in the business world, if not necessarily K-12 education, some in the L.A. area believe the appointment has ulterior motives.
Stephanie Abrams, a former TV reporter for CBS in Los Angeles, joined the 664,000-student district's communications staff as the chief of its new multi-pronged social media portfolio early this month, according to a report from The Los Angeles Daily News. Abrams' profile on the professional social network LinkedIn also includes the update.
Abrams will take charge of the district's presence on Facebook and Twitter, lead efforts to integrate various digital district and campus communication networks, use her TV background to film YouTube segments on district news, and assist some schools in constructing websites, according to The Daily News. The paper also reported that $87,000 of her $93,300 salary will be paid by the philanthropic Goldhirsh Foundation.
The Los Angeles district is not alone in trying to enhance its social media presence, but it may be the first to dedicate a staff member solely to that purpose.
Bailey Mitchell, the chairman of the board for the Consortium for School Networking, and the chief technology and information officer at the 37,000-student Forsyth County school district in northern Georgia, said he wasn't immediately aware of a district dedicating a staff person solely to social media, but that his district and many others do the same level of social media outreach through collective effort by its communications staff.
And Jennifer Caracciolo, the Forsyth County district's director of public information and communication, said she has seen a growing number of similar positions created in the private sector during the last six months, but that budget constraints have likely limited the creation of similar positions even by most forward-thinking school districts.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson person from the 1.1 million-student New York City school district said it does have a currently unfilled "online communications director" position, though managing the district's social media accounts is only a portion of its responsibilities.
Some followers of the Los Angeles district suspect the move may have more to do with public relations rather than progressive thinking.
Simone Wilson, a reporter and blogger for LA Weekly, suggests in a post that Abrams' appointment is the latest in a string of calculated PR moves by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in response to a sex scandal that first shook the district in early February. Social networking, she suggests, provides the district a platform to fight negative press with its own positive messages.
"Since Abrams was picked up by LAUSD, the district's Twitter account has done a complete 180 from stale once-a-month announcements to a more lively feed of student accomplishments, links to pro-LAUSD news stories, Deasy [retweets] and [a lot] of exclamation points," Wilson writes.
"The official LAUSD Facebook page and YouTube account are taking off as well, because nothing helps us move on from horrific sex-abuse allegations like feel-good photos of science projects and won decathlons," she adds, sarcastically.
Others have complained that private contributions should only fund positions that are in direct contact with students on a day-to-day basis.
Meanwhile, Abrams' appointment also comes just a month after the February release of a new social media policy that advises district employees to keep work-related and personal social network accounts separate, strongly discourages maintaining social networking contacts with students through a personal account, and warns employees not to hold any expectations of privacy while using school-owned technology. It's unclear from reports whether Abrams would be at least partially involved in publicizing and enforcing the new document.